New law to help customers contesting costly water bills


| ctumola@queenscourier.com |

(Photo: DEP)
(Photo: DEP)

After installing new automated meters in 2011, customers reported a record number of unreasonably high water bills.

Following a record number of disputed water bills, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio introduced legislation today that prevents late fees, liens and foreclosure on home and business owners fighting the charges.

He made the announcement at a Queens Chamber of Commerce small business forum that was held this morning at the Queens Library Flushing branch.

At the event, which highlighted city regulations and small business fines, de Blasio focused on disputed water bills because of the high number of customers that “contested sky-high water bills in 2011 after the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) installed new automated meters,” said de Blasio.

If home and business owners feel they have been unfairly charged, fighting the bill can be a long and difficult process. In the meantime, the DEP will send warnings to customers about escalating late fees and a lien sale, which can directly lead to foreclosure, said de Blasio.

They will often abandon the appeal process so they won’t lose their home or business, he added.

The legislation that de Blasio introduced to the City Council will allow owners to fight their water bills without the threat of late fees or foreclosure.

“In this tough economy, small business is struggling to survive. The last thing they need is to get soaked by the city’s unreasonably high water bills, due to faulty meters,” said councilmember Peter Koo, one of the legislation’s sponsors.

The water bill fines are just an example of the rapidly increasing fines that make it harder for small businesses to succeed, said de Blasio.

The story he’s heard from businesses all over the city, said de Balsio, is that increased fines over the last five years have “made it harder to keep the business going [and] harder to keep employing new people.”